Equity and Environmental Justice at EDF: Vision and Principles

Introduction and Purpose of Document:

Environmental Defense Fund's mission is to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends. Guided by science and economics, we find practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) works to solve critical environmental problems facing the planet and its inhabitants. This document is EDF’s vision for supporting and advancing justice and equity in our work around the world, and includes principles to guide that work. The purpose is to help our organization better stand with frontline and overburdened communities in addressing inequitable environmental processes and ensure durable and impactful outcomes. EDF is a global organization, and we will continuously evaluate this vision and these principles in the diverse contexts in which we work.


For the purposes of this Vision & Principles document, EDF adopts the following definitions of equity and environmental justice. We recognize that the concepts of equity and justice are similar and intertwined.

Equity is achieving fairness and balance in access to environmental resources (e.g., green space, safe neighborhoods, healthy homes, healthy fisheries), in bearing environmental burdens (e.g., pollution in air, water and on land), and in participating in environmental decision-making. Today, some populations – often ethnic minority communities, indigenous persons, people of color, and low-income communities -- have less access to resources and experience more burdens than others due to factors such as systemic racism, poverty and lack of access to political power. Equitable policies do not distribute resources equally or relieve burdens equally — they seek to address the imbalance (also known as the “disproportional burden”) that groups experience.

Environmental Justice means remedying environmental harms that have been purposefully or incidentally imposed on specific communities and preventing similar injustices from happening in the future.


EDF's mission to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends includes universally upholding the fundamental human rights of all people to breathe clean air, drink clean water, have access to sustainable food, grow in vibrant communities, and live in a clean and healthful environment in balance with flourishing biodiversity.

EDF will protect those rights, pursuing solutions that advance justice and that end a pattern of abuse and inequity. We will confront racism and oppressive systems as we seek equitable solutions to environmental injustice and, in the context of our work, strive to eliminate root causes of that injustice.

To do this, we commit to the following principles in three key areas - foundation, process, and accountability:


  1. We strive for equitable outcomes and to incorporate equitable processes into all facets of our new and existing work. We will ensure that our work is based on mutual respect and justice for all, free from discrimination and bias.
  2. We recognize and seek to address environmental inequities that arise from both historic and current systems, and will work to help address root causes of environmental injustice, including racism and other forms of discrimination.
  3. We value and honor the diversity of cultures in communities where we work across the globe, and we respect and value the perspectives of a diversity of stakeholders. We value perspectives based on traditional knowledge, cultural contexts and lived experiences.
  4. We value the connection between human well-being and healthy ecosystems and uphold the right to fair and equitable access to natural resources. We advocate for conservation goals appropriate to the context of social, economic, cultural, physical and mental health in communities.
  5. As we pursue broad-scale and high-level solutions to address global environmental problems, we commit to seeking input from impacted communities as a first priority, particularly historically marginalized communities. We will engage in fair, inclusive, participatory design and implementation of equitable solutions. We seek to develop solutions that do not exacerbate inequity and we commit to regularly assess our approach and course-correct as needed.
  6. We recognize that the pace at which we work can create the conditions where we may feel our perspectives are more urgent than those of others’. We commit to dedicating time and resources to ensure that the perspectives and inputs of partners and allies are voiced directly, heard and incorporated into our work.
  7. We commit to recognizing the power and resources that we benefit from, and we will use our access to ensure space at decision-making tables for under-represented groups and to support ensuring that adequate resources are available for those groups to take full advantage of the opportunity.
  8. We commit to seeking and building authentic, long-term, trusting partnerships and alliances with a diversity of groups, communities, and leaders, especially those most deeply affected by our actions and policy positions. We will support partners by sharing resources, amplifying their voices, and yielding the space for others to speak for themselves. We commit to meaningful inclusion of these partners and allies in decision-making, fundraising, and strategy development processes towards stronger outcomes for common goals.
  9. We commit to transparent communication and evaluation of our progress in this work. We will evaluate outcomes of our work based on the extent to which they address disproportionate burdens, prevent further inequity, and advance environmental justice. We will hold ourselves accountable and actively invite others to hold us accountable. As we learn and grow in this work, we will adjust our operations and strategies in response to feedback from partners, allies and affected communities.
  10. We will confront and interrupt racism, bias and discrimination in our own institution. We commit to incorporating diverse perspectives, experiences, and ideas and building the cultural competency needed for our work around the world.

Last updated: May 18, 2021